Is the Bible the Same Today As When It Was First Written (Parts 1, 2 and 3) by Bryan Gibson
Different Translations by Bryan Gibson
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Is the Bible the Same Today As When It Was First Written? (Part 1)
by Bryan Gibson
Can we be sure that the Bible has been preserved accurately through the years? In other words, can be sure that the Bible we have today is the one God intended for us to have?
Several different routes could be taken to answer this question, but let’s consider first the providence of God. If we acknowledge the existence of God, surely we would concede that if God so desired, He could make certain that His words were preserved through the centuries. Consider the words God spoke to Jeremiah: “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:26-27). Indeed, nothing is too hard for the Lord, including preserving His word for those in every succeeding generation. But did God even desire that His word be preserved? Passages like 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 1 Peter 1:22-25 make it abundantly clear that He did. So if God has both the ability and the desire to preserve His word, who is willing to charge Him with failure to do so?
Consider, too, that our eternal salvation hinges on knowing and obeying God’s word (John 12:48; Romans 1:16; 10:17; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; Hebrews 5:9; James 1:21). Think now, if our eternal destiny is dependent upon our response to His word, would God allow portions of it to be lost, or changed to such an extent that the meaning is lost? If you claim to have faith in the Almighty God, you shouldn’t have any trouble believing that He has preserved His word through these many years, that what we have today is worthy of our full confidence.
We will deal with this question in more detail in the other two articles in this series.
Is the Bible the Same Today As When It Was First Written? (Part 2)
by Bryan Gibson
In the last article, we looked at the fact that God has both the ability and the desire to preserve His word, so it is indeed a serious matter to charge Him with failing to do so. We should have faith that God has so preserved His word that it is still “able to save our souls” (James 1:21).
But what if we go back and look at the ancient documents or manuscripts that our translators use? Some have thought that with the variations in these manuscripts, we just can’t be sure that what we have today is God’s word. This scientific or historical look at these ancient documents is often called “textual criticism,” and despite what the word criticism implies, it should actually reinforce the faith of Christians. Let’s focus today on the reliability of the Old Testament, and then in a later article, we will deal with the New Testament.
Until the 1940’s, the earliest available O.T. Hebrew manuscripts were dated about A.D. 900. Called the Masoretic text, it was considered a reliable text because it was copied under such strict guidelines intended to safeguard accuracy.
But with the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls in 1947, an opportunity to test their accuracy was given to textual critics. These scrolls are dated from about 200 B.C. to about A.D. 68 and though all of the O.T. was not found there, portions of every book except Esther were found. In addition to the fragments, a complete scroll of Isaiah was found and despite 1000 years between it and the oldest Masoretic text, the Masoretic text was shown to be substantially unchanged. With the Dead Sea scrolls verifying the accuracy of the Hebrew text and the witness of the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament done in about 200 B.C.), along with some other ancient versions, you will find that there are few readings of the O.T. in dispute. The readings that are disputed do not affect the teachings of Scripture in anyway.
Then consider how Jesus and His apostles dealt with the O.T. They lived 1500 years after its beginning and 400 years after its completion. Did they see it as reliable? Clearly, they did, because they often read it or quoted from it, sometimes from the Hebrew, sometimes from the Septuagint (the Greek translation referred to earlier). They did so with confidence, even to arguments based on tense and number (for examples, see Mark 12:26-27; Galatians 3:16). Consider the confidence Jesus expressed in the fine details of the O.T.: “…till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18).
So should textual criticism shake our faith in the reliability of the O.T.? Not in the least. Sure, there are some variations in the different manuscripts, but as we pointed out earlier, there are relatively few, and they do not change the teaching of the text in anyway. In short, when you read the O.T., you have every reason to believe that you are reading God’s word.
The Bible: Is It The Same Today As When It Was First Written? (Part 3)
by Bryan Gibson
Two previous articles have dealt with this question. The first article looked at this question from the standpoint of God’s providence. It was shown that God has both the ability and the desire to preserve His word, so it is indeed a serious matter to charge Him with failing to do so. The second article focused on the reliability of the Old Testament in particular. In this article, we will shift our attention to the New Testament. Can we be sure that what we have today is what God intended us to have?
Before we look at some “external” evidences, we need to keep in mind that the New Testament itself offers the most convincing proof. This writer firmly believes that if you give the mighty power of God’s word (Hebrews 4:12-13) a fair hearing, faith in God and in His word will be the result (Romans 10:17).
There are so many manuscripts, versions and quotations of the New Testament available that F.F. Bruce said, “There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament” (ETDAV, p. 50). In other words, there is more evidence to support the accuracy of the New Testament than any other ancient document. But what about the variations in the manuscripts? There are some, but according to Westcott and Hort, two 19th century textual critics, substantial variations could “hardly form more than a thousandth part of the entire text” (NTIG, p. 2). These variations are usually noted in the margins of our Bibles. But let’s look more closely at what is available to us today:
- There are about 5000 different Greek manuscripts available. The earliest substantially complete ones date from the 4th century. But there are many fragments or portions from earlier times. For example, one fragment of John has been dated about A.D. 130.
- Additionally, textual critics have available to them translations made from Greek into Latin, Syriac and other languages. Some of these translations were made in the 2nd century and manuscripts from the 4th and 5th centuries have been found.
- Quotations of N.T. writings can also be found in the early “church fathers” (called “patristics”). These men lived as early as the end of the 1st century and in their writings have preserved for comparison very large portions of the N.T.
- Lectionaries (works used for daily readings and public worship also contain quotations from the N.T. Most of these date from the 6th century on.
Some are troubled by the time gap between the writing of the New Testament and these manuscripts we have. There are a few things we need to keep in mind about the dates for manuscripts, writings, etc. A 4th century copy proves the existence of an earlier manuscript, doesn’t it? Why aren’t there more early manuscripts? Once new copies were made, there was no need to keep the old, worn copy. How many 200 year-old Bibles have you seen? But you don’t doubt that the King James Version of 1796 was the same as the King James Version of 1996, do you?
Really, when you compare the New Testament to other ancient documents, you will see that the time gap is quite short. For Homer’s Odyssey, the gap between composition and the oldest complete copy is about 2200 years. And then consider two other ancient works composed near the time of the New Testament. The oldest complete copy of Caesar’s Gallic Wars is dated about 1000 years after its composition (written between 58 and 50 B.C.). The Roman historian Tacitus wrote Histories around A.D. 100. The earliest copy we have of this book
is about 800 years after its composition.
All of this is to say that the New Testament has been preserved better than any other ancient historical document. How do we account for this if it is just another book?
by Bryan Gibson
Since the translation of the King James Version (KJV) in 1611 many more have followed. And since the middle 1800’s translators have had the benefit of many more manuscripts and other materials. But have these additional manuscripts changed the sense of Scripture as found in the KJV?
Any substantial changes would suggest that men did not have what they needed 150 years ago, and if they didn’t then, how can we be sure that we do today? But if we look at the standard translations available today, including the KJV, ASV, RSV, NASB, NIV, and NKJV, we won’t find a single one that includes a mechanical instrument in Ephesians 5:19. Nor will we find one that identifies the tongues of Acts 2 as anything other than actual languages. Even Roman Catholic Bibles teach that that there is one mediator between God and men (1 Timothy 2:5), and that men should not be elevated above others with titles (Matthew 23:6-10). In other words, there are many religious disputes over what passages mean, but uncertainty over what the text says is not the reason for them.
Consider the best known disputed passage—the ending of Mark 16. Both the RSV and NIV indicate that Mark 16:9-20 were added later (a position that I personally reject), but this textual dispute is in no way responsible for the debate over baptism and its purpose. Mark 16:16 is not the only passage that states clearly the purpose of baptism. Look at two passages in both the RSV and the NIV: Acts 2:38 and Acts 22:16.
RSV: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…” “And now, why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins…”
NIV: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven…” “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away…”
Even without Mark 16:16, God’s will is clear.
To those who are hung up by a “translation controversy,” we ask this. What would it take to convince you? Have you honestly and objectively considered what has been presented above? Do you really believe that you were created by a God who loves you and wants to communicate His will to you, so that you can live a happy life and be with Him forever? Or, are you looking for a way out, and find comfort in repeating the criticisms that you have heard stated (without proof) from your companions (1 Corinthians 15:33). Please give this serious thought; your eternal destiny depends on it.
We state confidently that God’s will can be learned by reading any of the standard translations (listed above) available to us today. As for others, paraphrases should never be trusted since they are usually the work of one or a few men, and they usually press those men's biases. In evaluating complete translations, be sure that a team of scholars was involved, and that these scholars were interested in nothing other than a valid translation of the Greek or Hebrew, as opposed to trying to support any pet doctrines. Certainly a team that is mixed with several religious backgrounds would be preferable to one from only one denomination or cult.
What are the conditions of salvation given by Jesus?
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